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OFF THE BENCH: First Lady Laura Bush Steps to Plate as Advocate for Quality Teachers

"Teachers deserve all the knowledge and support we can give them."

First Lady Laura Bush has taken an active role in reforming public education, leading efforts to promote literacy and early childhood education. Now she has turned her attention to improving teacher conditions and alleviating teacher shortages. Demonstrating her commitment, Mrs. Bush hosted a major conference on teacher quality.

Education leaders, researchers, practitioners and policymakers gathered March 5 for Mrs. Bush’s White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers. Focusing on the quality of teacher education, on teacher shortages, and on accountability for teaching standards and student achievement, the conference addressed how to immediately improve teacher training and support.

“Our obligation to America’s teachers is as clear and strong as our obligation to America’s children,” Mrs. Bush said in her opening remarks. “Teachers deserve all the knowledge and support we can give them.” Avoiding the topic of salary gaps, the First Lady mentioned the intangible awards of affecting children’s lives. “Teaching is the greatest community service of all,” she said.

The twelve speakers, including U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, discussed research, credentialing, training, programming and recruiting methods. In a statistically laden presentation, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Grover J. Whitehurst demonstrated the direct relationship between effective teacher preparation and professional development on the one hand and student achievement on the other. In one study he cited, children assigned to three “effective” teachers in a row scored in the 83rd percentile in math at the end of the 5th grade, while children assigned to three ineffective teachers in a row scored in the 29th percentile,” clearly proving that quality teachers matter.

Whitehurst found that certification and licensure aren’t true measures of teacher effectiveness because of varying state certification requirements and other factors. His analysis found that the “most important influence on individual differences in teacher effectiveness is teachers’ general cognitive ability, followed by experience and content knowledge.”

In the discussion of teacher certification, Frederick M. Hess, a professor at University of Virginia, embraced what he called a “common sense model of competitive certification” that “would create new opportunities to enhance the quality and relevance of professional development.” He suggested applicants for teaching certification should be required to hold at least at B.A., be subjected to a rigorous criminal-background check, and be required to pass a test demonstrating competency of essential knowledge and skills. Hess says these criteria would enhance the talent pool by making teaching more competitive.

American Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman articulated the basic changes needed in teacher preparation and the urgency of the problem. “Most teachers…will tell you they felt unprepared when they entered the classroom…This should never be the case.”

On March 14, Mrs. Bush briefed the House Education and Workforce Committee on these issues, summarizing the conference’s findings and supporting both the President’s No Child Left Behind Act and his proposed budget as the proper methods for reforming education: “Teachers are the heart and soul of our schools,” Mrs. Bush told the committee. “The Conference gave us new insights and understandings of the challenges ahead as we work to support our ‘soldiers of democracy’ – America’s teachers.”

The First Lady’s remarks at the White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers

New Publication on No Child Left Behind: A Must-Read for Educators and Community Leaders 

The Learning First Alliance, a national partnership of leading education associations, released a new guide to The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The paper highlights the important changes in the law and offers information about the funding provided by NCLB for the coming year. The Learning First Alliance further engages the reader by posing challenges for schools and communities as they implement the new law.

Learning First Alliance guide: Major Changes to ESEA in the No Child Left Behind Act


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.